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Lakers to Honor Late Owner Jerry Buss

Fans at the game will receive a Buss bobblehead.

Late owner Jerry Buss' countless accomplishments will be heralded at a Lakers game.
Late owner Jerry Buss' countless accomplishments will be heralded at a Lakers game.

The Los Angeles Lakers will honor their late owner Jerry Buss at Tuesday night's game against the Indiana Pacers at Staples Center, one day after what would have been his 81st birthday.

All fans will receive a bobblehead of Buss, and a video paying tribute to him will be shown at halftime.

"He was the best of the best," former Lakers general manager and executive vice president of basketball operations Jerry West said of Buss, who died Feb. 18, 2013, at the age of 80 from kidney failure after a long battle with cancer.

"My association with him, for so many years, was filled with fun, excitement, a lot of success. I think the way he handled his success was the most important thing to me. He was a person that took great pride in the Lakers and under his stewardship, this franchise prospered like no other during that era."

In 1979, Buss purchased the Lakers, Forum, Los Angeles Kings hockey team and a 13,000-acre Kern County ranch from Jack Kent Cooke for $67.5 million, then the largest transaction in sports history.

When Buss purchased the team, it had won one championship in the previous 25 seasons and had lost nine times in the NBA finals during that span, including four seven-game series.

Buss combined show business glamour and sex appeal with shrewd personnel moves -- both on and off the court -- to make the Lakers become what NBA Commissioner David Stern once said was "the standard by which all L.A. sports franchises and most American franchises get measured."

"He believed basketball was much more than a game," said West, now a Golden State Warriors Executive Board member. "He believed it was about entertainment.

"He was so innovative and so persistent in terms of what he wanted to see as an organization and more importantly for the team we put on the floor. He wanted a fast-paced game, he wanted people that could get the crowd going."

In Buss' first season as owner, the Lakers won the NBA championship, then added four more titles in the following eight seasons, as the Magic Johnson-led fast-breaking "Showtime" offense enthralled both the general public and celebrities like Academy Award-winning actor Jack Nicholson, who became regulars in the courtside seats.

Under Buss, the Lakers became the first NBA team to have a dance squad: the Laker Girls, who also developed a devoted following and inspired creation of similar squads by every other team in the league.

The Lakers won three more NBA championships from 2000-2002 with teams led by Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. Bryant-led teams won titles in 2009 and 2010.

The Lakers' 10 championships under Buss' ownership were the most by a team in any of the four major North American professional leagues since he purchased the team. Buss' 10 championships as an owner are also the most in NBA history.

Born Jan. 27, 1933, in Salt Lake City and raised in the tiny mining and sheep ranching community of Kemmerer, Wyoming, Buss came to Southern California to attend graduate school at USC, where he received a doctorate in physical chemistry.

Buss taught at USC and worked in the aerospace industry, then joined with aerospace engineer Frank Mariani in forming Mariani-Buss Associates, a real estate firm, whose initial goal was to provide Buss with income to pursue his love of teaching.

Instead, Buss parlayed an original $1,000 investment in a West Los Angeles apartment building into a fortune that would enable him to enter professional sports ownership.

Buss made his initial foray into professional sports in 1974 when he purchased full control of the Los Angeles Strings of World Team Tennis.

Buss was selected for the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2006, honored in the television category for co-founding with the late cable pioneer Bill Daniels the Prime Ticket regional cable sports channel in 1985, which showed the Lakers' home games, along with other events from the Forum, college sports and other events.

Despite others' fears that televising home games would hurt attendance, Prime Ticket generated millions of dollars annually through the sale of television rights fees and ended up bolstering the Lakers' attendance by creating greater interest in the team.

"He is really missed," West said. "He left some really giant footprints for other people to follow."

- City News Service

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